Tremors: Shrieker Island, Michael Gross (Horror Movie Review #1)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: Monster hunter / survivalist Burt Gummer is called out of retirement when a billionaire hunting enthusiast makes the mistake of populating his private island with genetically manipulated Graboids for the most challenging big game hunt of all time. Things get even more complicated when Shriekers enter the picture.

REVIEW: After TREMORS 5: BLOODLINES and TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL, I can't say I was enthusiastic to hear that the director of those films, Don Michael Paul, was returning to take the helm of the latest film, TREMORS: SHRIEKER ISLAND (buy it HERE). But I have to say, when it comes to directing TREMORS movies, the third time was the charm for Paul.

I have been a devoted follower of the TREMORS franchise ever since watching the first movie repeatedly on VHS when I was a little kid. I was hyped for TREMORS II: AFTERSHOCKS from the moment I read it was happening in the pages of Fangoria magazine, and when I rented it the first day it came out I found it to be one of the best sequels ever made. TREMORS 3: BACK TO PERFECTION was a step down, but still highly entertaining, and I thought the unexpected prequel TREMORS 4: THE LEGEND BEGINS was a fun companion piece to the original film. I was also a fan of the short-lived TV series that aired back in 2003, and wish that it had gone on for a lot longer than just thirteen episodes. The franchise changed when there was an eleven year wait between the fourth and fifth films; when it returned, there was a different creative team in charge, the tone and style were different, the monsters had been re-designed. I was glad TREMORS 5: BLOODLINES finally happened, but it wasn't quite the same TREMORS I knew and loved before. Then TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL was the first time my initial reaction to a TREMORS movie was primarily negative, as it took the franchise even further from the good old days.

Tremors: Shrieker Island Don Michael Paul Richard Brake

Now SHRIEKER ISLAND has come along to redeem this "modern trilogy" of TREMORS sequels. The tone is still a bit darker than the earlier films, the creatures are still overblown CGI monstrosities, and I still prefer the original Graboids over these ones that leap out of the ground and corkscrew through the air… but the issues I have with this sequel are ones I can more easily push aside than the ones I had with BLOODLINES and A COLD DAY IN HELL. The alterations made to the monsters are less bothersome and more explainable, there's no questionable fascination with urine (people were constantly getting pissed on in BLOODLINES), and franchise hero Burt Gummer (played, as he has been since the beginning, by Michael Gross) has finally calmed down a bit. In Paul's previous TREMORS movies, Burt was portrayed as an angrier, more unpleasant person than he had ever been before. This time Paul and Gross took away the rage and got Burt's personality closer to the way it used to be. Plus the film earns points for bringing back the Shriekers after the last two movies did their best to ignore the two-legged stage of the Graboid life cycle, despite being packed with Ass-Blasters, the flying stage of the life cycle. Ass-Blasters are not present in this film.

Scripted by Paul (who made his screenwriting debut with the action classic HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN) and franchise newcomer Brian Brightly (INSIDE MAN: MOST WANTED), SHRIEKER ISLAND has the same basic set-up as AFTERSHOCKS, BLOODLINES, and A COLD DAY IN HELL: Graboids have shown up in a new location and Burt Gummer has to handle the problem. In this case, Paul and Brightly drew inspiration from The Most Dangerous Game to imagine a scenario in which the billionaire owner of biotech company Avex-Bio has bred genetically enhanced Graboids so he can host a big game hunt on his private island. Avex-Bio employees set up at a wildlife preservation outpost on a neighboring island fear their boss is putting their lives in danger by setting these Graboids loose so close to them, so they bring in Burt Gummer hoping he'll be able to keep this situation from getting out of control. But it is out of control as soon as they figure out what's happening, because one of the Graboids has already reached the Shrieker stage of its life.

Richard Brake, who has recently become quite popular with genre fans through his collaborations with Rob Zombie, plays biotech company head Bill, too wealthy for his own good, only able to get thrills from hunting dangerous animals. Brake turns in a captivating performance here, elevating the material and occasionally chewing the scenery as Bill proves to be in way over his head and quickly loses his sanity.

Tremors: Shrieker Island Don Michael Paul Jon Heder Jackie Cruz Michael Gross

Pulled out of a half-year off-the-grid retirement, during which time he started looking like a tropical Santa Claus, Burt tries to talk sense into Bill, and when he sees that's not going to work he has to handle the Graboid hunting himself. An endeavor that's complicated by the fact that the usually heavily armed character doesn't have any of his weaponry on hand, and the wildlife preservation folks can't provide him with much. 

The original plan was that Burt was going to have the same sidekick in this film that he had in the previous two films, Jamie Kennedy as Travis B. Welker, the son Burt never knew about until the guy was 40. For whatever reason, Kennedy chose not to return for this film, so Burt gets a new assistant in the form of conservationist Jimmy – played by NAPOLEON DYNAMITE himself, Jon Heder. As expected, Jimmy is a humorous character, but he also has a surprising emotional depth to him at times, and he's less grating than Travis was. Also in the mix are Jimmy's fellow Avex-Bio workers Jas (Caroline Langrishe) and Freddie (Jackie Cruz), as well as Bill's right hand woman Anna (Cassie Clare), who realizes her boss has made a terrible mistake. I won't say how here, but even with Travis being absent the film does still tie back to the BLOODLINES reveal that Burt had a son, truly making these three recent sequels feel like a cohesive trilogy. It's doubtful that viewers are going to feel a strong attachment to any of these characters (other than Burt, of course), but they're likeable enough to follow on this adventure.

Much like the supporting characters, the monster attack sequences are serviceable. Due to the genetic manipulation, the Graboids in this film are meant to be bigger and badder than the average, but that doesn't really translate to the screen other than in a couple moments of people marveling at the size of the things. One of the Graboids is referred to as a Queen simply because of her massive size, and it's also implied that she's somehow aware of who the strongest and weakest members of the human cast are – which means she seems to specifically target Burt as the story goes on. The "this time it's personal" aspect is one thing about the movie that I really could have done without.

But what of the titular monsters? Like the Graboids and Ass-Blasters of the Paul movies, the Shriekers have gotten a re-design and been given different abilities. They're at the center of a standout sequence that involves Burt, Jimmy, machetes, and a chainsaw, and as far as I'm concerned that sequence in itself was enough to make the movie's 102 minutes worth sitting through.

Even taking that sequence into account, TREMORS: SHRIEKER ISLAND doesn't have anything amazing to show the viewer. If you've already checked out of the franchise, there isn't much in this sequel that's likely to win you back. While it's an improvement over the last two – better written, more enjoyable – it's not anywhere close to the quality of the earlier films from the original creative team. But if you're looking for some B-movie creature action and want to see some good performances from the likes of Michael Gross and Richard Brake, this is a fun watch with a surprisingly touching ending.

Universal Home Entertainment is giving TREMORS: SHRIEKER ISLAND a Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and Digital release on October 20th.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.